15 APRIL 2013


Michelle Bachelet is leaving as predicted by unforum seven months ago. What next? "One Song" is not enough.

On 15 March, 2013, one week after commemorating (or presumably celebrating) International Women's Day, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of U.N. Women, will be leaving after less than two years in the post, and expressed tremendous gratitude for her service.

In September, 2012, unforum had a headline predicting Ms. Bachelet's departure and again, in a February, 2013, headline reported speculation about her replacement.

Let us quickly confirm what is taken for granted. As the Secretary General rightly points out, "Michelle Bachelet was the right person in the right job at the right time. Her visionary leadership gave U.N. Women the dynamic start it needed. Her fearlessness in advocating for women's rights raised the global profile of this key issue. Her drive and compassion enabled her to mobilize and make a difference for millions of people across the world. Her record of achievement includes new steps to protect women and girls from violence, new advances on health, and a new understanding that women's empowerment must be at the core of all we do at the United Nations."

Again on behalf of all of us, Ban Ki-moon wished her every success as she embarks on the next chapter in her extraordinary life. "She will always have a home at the United Nations, and I am confident that she will continue to advance our shared goals for a better future," he said.

By end March, Ms. Bachelet was already in Santiago de Chile announcing her bid for the Presidency in the Presidential election on 17 November.

Good for her. But now, what happened to "U.N. Women?" What actually did it accomplish since its globally heralded formation in July 2010?

When we raised the question in a July 2012 headline, we received a stream of comments, mainly verbal and mostly from interested U.N. staff and diplomats who did not want to be quoted.

There was a consensus about Michelle Bachelet's outstanding record and qualifications and agreement that "U.N. Women" did not meet even a fraction of the expectations. In the area of financial resources -- initially targeted at $500 million, the outcome of contribution of thousands (? I don't have your original notes for this headline...). It was noted that one substantively contributing country had a close Permanent Representative appointed to a senior post under her maiden name. Two were not very complimentary about the management process, as the top chief keeps travelling around the globe, clearly enjoying a warm welcome by enthusiastic groups of women (?).

Let us repeat that we have the utmost respect for the person of Michelle Bachelet as one to defend human dignity -- in Chile and elsewhere. We, like many others, are still puzzled by programme performance thus far and still hope for a more active, more creative actor who is receiving any practical support from those around the Secretary General is a valid question (?). We will not single out names, and leave it at that.

We were informed, however, by a fairly well-connected person on women's issues. Confidential diplomatic whispers indicate that Ms. Bachelet will be returning to Chile. If she decides to run for President again, public opinion surveys indicate she has a 56% chance of winning, while her closest competitor has only 16%. Very few seem to blame her. After all, what would you rather do, run one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, or read tea leaves at the North Lawn compound in New York?

Whatever the reasons or apologies, U.N. Women did not function at the level of expectation from someone with the highest calibre and formidable background like Ms. Bachelet. In fact, practical activities in support of women advance as the U.N. retreated in a state of ponderosity. Several regional groups, media and non-governmental organizations, have taken more effective leadership than the designated "leader." For example, last year and this year, one person like Tina Brown, former New Yorker Editor and currently overseeing Daily Beast and Newsweek was able to accomplish in international advocacy for women more than all U.N. agencies put together, let alone the seemingly hapless U.N. Women.

Even on its own turf, even on the U.N.-designated International Women's Day, there was that dutiful whimper -- only dutifully going through the motions. Obviously there was nothing much to celebrate or commemorate. The poster looked good. But the discussions were unfocused. Panelists chatting away. No one explained what a vague slogan like "a promise is a promise" really means. "Time to stop violence against women?" Indeed. But certainly not through obscure pontifications at an unnoticed two hour gathering in a window-less transitional room off First Avenue and 47th Street!

For years, at least a full day with all U.N. staff joining was marked by practical active participation of an array of interesting women and men drawn from varied disciplines to highlight main points of an enlightened roadmap.

This year the highlight was supposedly the introduction of one song entitled (guess what?) "One Song" -- labeled as "A Song for U.N. Women." A few little-known singers from visibly different locations Photoshopped in varied poses as they sing a below average song with a refrain "We shall shine." Viewers were then admonished to "buy song" to help the cause of women!

That song, obviously, never made it to the top ten anywhere, unlike that other song that gained worldwide recognition on that particular day: "Your Day, Women Day," with a rhythmic Afro-Latino Reggae beat entitled "Shaking the Tree."

No more shaking the tree at U.N. Women. Only One Song. Only soft music. You can go to sleep now. Tomorrow is another Day.